Guest Post: Play in Google’s Schoolyard: Basic SEO Principles for Bloggers and Authors by Whitney McGruder

 

seoYou’re probably already aware of what SEO is by other names: marketing or self-promoting to name a few. Search Engine Optimization is basically a set of tactics that companies use to push their website towards the top of a Google search.

To stay on top, companies of any size usually hire someone to study keywords, trends, and consumers to know how to best promote their company website. Yeah, it takes enough work that companies often pay someone to do it full-time.

So as an author—going indie or traditional—you can still understand and use these tactics for yourself. Here’s a quick rundown of how Google decides which sites should move up, and how you can promote yourself.

The Basic 411 on SEO

  1. Google finds a website.
  2. They send “spiders” to “crawl” all over your website or page—on visible content and coding involved.
  3. Google decides whether a site is useful to readers. If it’s useful, it gets bumped up. If it’s not, it remains stagnant.
  4. Google constantly changes their “rules” to weed out good websites from the spammy ones.

So to move up, you have to follow Google’s rules in order to prove that you’re genuine and creating content or services that would benefit the user searching for the keyword. Below are a few tips to show you mean business.

Offer Legitimate Comments

You can boost your website through good comments. While it may seem counterintuitive to give good comments on other pages, it reflects well on you.

It’s easier to describe what not to write as a comment. To Google, a spammy comment is often linked to a sketchy website or doesn’t use proper English—think something that looks like a Google Translate disaster. The comments are also vague and could apply to any topic like, “I had a good friend who knows this stuff. I will share this good information with them.”

A quality comment usually fodders more conversation by adding a new take to the topic. Try to leave comments that could be followed up with intelligent comments from other viewers or the author.

But why leave comments in the first place? Often, when you leave a comment, you get the option of leaving your URL as a link for others to view your work. Bingo! More viewers. Google pays attention when websites refer to you as a good reference and people want to visit your content.

Consistent Quality

A website is often considered legitimate and quality when there’s a lot of diverse content that is published on a regular basis—as in, no two-year lapses. Spammy SEO tactics involve posting the same content multiple times—plagiarizing themselves in effect. Google’s no dummy and will see right through that.

Consistent quality also means that you’re consistent and prominent on social media platforms, too. Starting to see why companies hire people to do this stuff? Who has time to promote themselves on the daily via Pinterest, Instagram, Google +, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook and do the job they are initially promoting?

Utilize Keywords

keywordA keyword is a word or phrase that helps Google know what kind of content you have. That way, when viewers are looking for information, Google knows what to pull up.

Right now, a keyword could be something like “ways to improve writing” as opposed to just “writing tips” since web readers tend to search for a full phrase rather than just a noun.

Some people choose a keyword and then write a post around it, and other times, writers create a post and pick a keyword that best represents it. Both ways are great as long as the info matches up to the keyword.

You want readers to stay on your page for as long as you can hold them, so if they’re looking for information about character tips and you’re just talking about your favorite TV characters, readers will move on to something more relevant to their needs.

Google can even tell how long people are on your page and consider your page useful if a lot of people are taking the time to read through the piece or click on links within your main webpage.

Some writers will hyperlink to other pages on their website. This is awesome, but don’t overdo it. “Keyword stuffing” is basically linking to the same website a lot or excessively repeating the keyword to make the page look super relevant. Google is no dummy! This is what spammy SEO looks like and Google wants to promote quality sites, not desperate sites.

Check out AdWords via Google to do your own research on what your target audience is searching for when it comes to writing (https://adwords.google.com/KeywordPlanner).

Plug in Some Plugins

For those who own your own website, you can use plugins to help you with your SEO work. Plugins are sort of like widgets that enhance your website. You use plugins for aesthetic appeal, coding, and analysis. There are a few big SEO plugins that you can use to analyze how you’re doing, as well as help you optimize your page. Yoast SEO is one that I use. You can also use Google Analytics to get feedback on how you’re doing and where you can improve.

Okay, so that seems like a lot to juggle. And it is. For those of you who are working on a novel, have a job, and try to promote your work, it’s hard to find the time to do all three. But it’s manageable, and well worth the effort.

SEO takes planning and patience. Even if you did everything mentioned here, you won’t see immediate success. It takes weeks or months to get those good numbers, as any blogger knows.

I would suggest to crank up your SEO once you approach major milestones. It’s great to get people to your webpage before you finish a book, but it really counts once you have something complete to offer.


Whitney McGruder puts the “Wit” in Wit & Travesty–a website she runs with her author-husband, Travis. She works for an SEO company by day, and edits her novel, cross stitches samplers, and reads comic books at night.

*Banner photo credit http://witandtravesty.com

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My Hybrid Author Website: Custom Domain and Free Hosting

As you may have noticed, my author website now carries a new domain name: KateMColby.com! In this post, I want to share with you how I set up my custom domain name, why I have decided to stay with WordPress.com’s free hosting, and my plans for the future.

My Domain Name

I chose to use my pen name as my domain name, because I believe it will be the way most readers and fellow authors try to find me in the future. At some point, I may also buy a domain name and/or set up a website for my press, but at this point, that does not make sense financially or logistically.

I purchased KateMColby.com through Internetbs.net, as it was recommended to me by The Rocking Self-Publishing Podcast’s Author Website Course. The cost was $8.99 for one year.

From there, I mapped my new domain to my free WordPress.com account using these instructions. I did have to pay for WordPress Site Redirect to “redirect” those who type in/link to katemcolby.wordpress.com to katemcolby.com. The cost is $13.00 per year. However, it allows the site I currently use to function as it always has with a newer, more professional domain name. That put my total cost for one year at $21.99.

As most WordPress.com users will know, you can register your custom domain name directly through WordPress.com. However, I decided against this for two reasons. First, the base cost for a domain name at WordPress.com is $18.00. For half the price, I can have a domain that I can easily transfer to different hosting in the future. Second, the domain registrar I used (Internetbs.net) provides free privacy protection, whereas WordPress.com requires you to pay $8.00 for privacy protection. In short, my cost was $21.99 per year instead of $26.00 per year.

As an added perk, I also have free email forwarding now. So if you ever want to get in contact with me directly, author@katemcolby.com should do the trick!

Why I Stayed with WordPress.com for Hosting

This list is simple:

  • Hosting is an extra monthly cost that I do not need right now.
  • I love my WordPress.com theme and mobile-friendly site.
  • I can do without fancy plug-ins and customization options until my career is more established.
  • I’m not super tech savvy yet, so I like having a reliable host and site design for now.
  • I love interacting with the WordPress.com community!

Plans for the Future

Eventually, I will move to a self-hosted website with either a custom design or a WordPress.org design template with heavy customization options. This is the main reason why I bought my domain name from a third party source — it is ready to move whenever I am!

As far as this site is concerned, I do have a few plans for updating it. You may already have noticed new email newsletter sign up buttons, new tag lines, and a few subtle changes to some of the pages and widgets. In the coming weeks, I hope to continue this by refining the options in my navigation bar, updating my author biography, and possibly integrating some video into my pages.

In other words, stay tuned for subtle, exciting (to me anyway) changes ahead!


For more information on how to set up your own author website, see Building Your Author Platform: Setting Up Your Home Base.

For tips on what to included on your author website, see Building Your Author Platform: 8 Essential Elements for Your Author Website.

Building Your Author Platform: Setting Up Your Home Base

The first steps in building your author platform are understanding what, when, and why and choosing the pen name you want to use. Once those steps are completed, you can take action. My suggestion is to begin by setting up your “home base” on the web: your author website.

Your author website will be the center of your activity online. It will be the place to which you direct your readers (“funnel” them) from other sites. In the game of internet tag, it is the place you want your readers to end up: home base. It is a place entirely devoted to you and your work.

Most authors go one of two routes with their author website.

Route One: Free Blog/Website

There are several host websites that allow you to create your own website entirely for free. These include WordPress, Blogger, and Wix, among others. With these websites, you use the provider’s hosting, design options (often called “templates”), and a domain name that ends in their domain name (ie: katemcolby.wordpress.com). NOTE: You can pay to have a custom domain name.

Pros

  • Entirely free
  • Low maintenance
  • Easy to create and design
  • Easy to connect to others (via features like the WordPress Reader and searchable tags)
  • Simple statistics provided (not as thorough or accurate as Google Analytics)

Cons

  • Highly limited customization
  • Website is technically “owned” by another company
  • Host company may have regulations about content (profanity, selling products/services)
  • May look less professional than a custom website with custom domain name

Authors who should consider Route One: beginning authors, authors on a tight budget, authors who intend to blog regularly, authors who may not want to be full-time writers

My humble opinion: I chose to go the free route for the beginning of my indie author career. I did not want to invest money in my author website until I was closer to publishing. Likewise, I am not a technical wizard, and I like having an easy website with a strong social component to help me connect with other bloggers.

Resources:

Route Two: Your Own Website

For a website to be entirely your own, you must pay for the hosting, buy a custom domain name, and either install a design template (free or purchased – WordPress.org themes are the most popular) or pay a designer to create a custom design for you. Depending on the services you select, having your own website may be inexpensive, or it could cost quite a bit. However, it will never be free.

Pros

  • Full customization
  • Ownership of your home base
  • No restrictions on content and/or selling your products/services
  • Shows professionalism
  • Can install Google Analytics (or another tracking service) to see exactly how many views you receive, from where your traffic comes, and other statistics

Cons

  • Costs money
  • Can be high-maintenance
  • Requires more technical knowledge
  • An “island” – not connected to others via a social network, must rely on search engine optimization (SEO) and organic traffic to generate views

Authors who should consider Route Two: authors with some technical knowledge, authors without strict financial limitations, authors who intend to be full-time writers, authors who are in writing/publishing for “the long haul”

My humble opinion: When I publish my first novel, I will be switching to a self-hosted site with a custom domain name and a free WordPress.org theme. I’m doing this, because I want to own my content, write any content I wish, and sell my products directly from my site. To me, it is an investment and a tool that I intend to keep my entire career.

Resources:


To view the rest of my author platform series, click here.

What kind of author website do you have? If you use a free website, do you intend to keep it or change to self-hosted later? What else would you like to know about author websites?